Arctic Monkeys’ daring sixth album is a left-turn if ever there was one, but the way Alex Turner swaps witty sleaze for absurdist suave makes it a totally bemusing and fascinating listen.

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Alex Turner wrote Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album in Los Angeles on an upright piano in his spare room. As it took shape, he christened his makeshift studio the Lunar Surface, after the theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing on a soundstage. When Turner assembled his bandmates, they were alarmed khổng lồ find he’d applied this concept literally: Tranquility Base hotel & Casino is a song suite documenting a futuristic moon colony và the exodus that spawned it, told by an assortment of unreliable narrators who can sometimes barely string a sentence together. After 2013’s wildly successful AM, Turner is now writing lyrics in an entirely new idiom, swapping witty sleaze for absurdist suave.

Against the odds, the resulting LP finds the former street poet at his most visionary: material only he could write, performed with a charm & bravado that only he could pull off. He veers from croons to falsetto, splicing together hyperrealist satire, sham biography, & interstellar escapism. Glints of social commentary yield lớn the whims of his narrators—forgetful, distractible oddballs và drunk egomaniacs who have no right khổng lồ be so captivating.

At a studio in an old Parisian mansion, the band dreamed up an alluring retro-futurist backdrop for Turner’s inventions. Harpsichords, vintage keyboards, and space-age synths are cobwebbed together. The music borrows from that mid-’70s moment when the Walker Brothers resembled an avant-garde funeral band, while Turner sings drolly surreal one-liners & play-acts as a vanquished lounge singer. Lớn round off the lunar alienation, he spliced his studio renditions with the raw, eccentric vocal demos he’d been recording at home.

The results of this experiment will divide, delight, bemuse, và bewilder various factions of their sizable fan hâm mộ base, particularly disciples of its bluesy predecessor. No singles teed up Tranquility Base khách sạn & Casino, and for good reason: Barely anything here invites casual consumption. There is plenty that actively resists it, và that’s probably the point.

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Turner, who is 32, has lately immersed himself in a pair of books often cited as shorthand for our modern condition: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest & Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Unlike Father John Misty, another acolyte of this pop-philosophical literature, Turner threads their ideas into quiet storms of insinuation rather than didactic frenzies. “Everybody’s on a barge floating down the endless stream of great TV,” he riffs on “Star Treatment,” one of his sassier nods khổng lồ our current predicament—what Wallace called the “strange objectless unease” of immersion in visual media.

Turner later references Postman’s “information-action ratio,” the idea that our access lớn endless information has created a harmful international consciousness: In deciding what khổng lồ care about, we are paralyzed by choice, and so care a little about everything, rather than a lot about what’s important. On “Four Out of Five,” the “Information-Action Ratio” is the name of a rooftop taqueria in Turner’s rapidly gentrifying moon colony. This is one of his pet topics, how consumerism can co-opt a salient critique và use it to sell you new stuff. Whether or not he’d accept the term, he’s descended into a kind of capitalist ennui, borne out in a sharp line crooned on “Batphone”: “I launch my fragrance called Integrity/I sell the fact that I can’t be bought.”

Even Turner’s trademark nostalgia, once fixed on ice-cream vans & “trackie bottoms tucked in socks,” gets a top-down reinvention. On album highlight “Star Treatment,” he glams up like David Bowie descending on a lunar wedding. After recalling a time when he “just wanted to lớn be one of the Strokes,” Turner drifts into a thắm thiết fantasy about an ex & re-emerges in their back seat, a ghost in the rear-view mirror, before taking an elevator down to Earth khổng lồ resume his “make-believe residency” as a “lounge singer shimmer.” In an age of hyper-communication and rolling-news anxiety, it’s intriguing lớn hear Turner in this hallucinogenic state, oscillating between abstraction & narrative. His first-person encounters are inscrutable free-association, yet the absurdities ring true. It’s not until you’re lured into his headspace that this dissonant poetry begins lớn align with our dissonant reality.

That dissonance reappears in Turner’s fixation on worlds-within-worlds, the way one story can collapse into another. It’s a component of his ruptured reality, traceable lớn any number of preoccupations—fluid truth in the fake-news era, the wonderland of L.A., the distorting effects of celebrity or cocaine. Those same lines between reality và representation are unravelling in his Lunar Surface home-studio analogy, in the songs-within-songs of “Star Treatment,” “Science Fiction,” and “The Ultracheese,” & in the hand-carved model of a hotel-casino on the record’s cover, which Turner likens to lớn the scaled-down replicas that hotels display in their own lobbies. He has the air of a lounge-lizard Borges, a meticulous analyst with the gloriously caddish spirit of Serge Gainsbourg, John Cooper Clarke, & Jarvis Cocker rolled into one.

Perhaps the great mystery of Tranquility Base khách sạn & Casino is not its knotty themes or cryptic lyrics but what’s motivating Turner. With the keys khổng lồ the most lucrative & well-oiled indie-rock band around, he’s regenerated Arctic Monkeys in service of a delirious & artful satire directed at the foundations of modern society. This is not an act of protest: Implicated in its sprawl are gentrification, consumerism, and truyền thông media consumption, but rather than address these meaty topics, he strafes around them, admiring their transformation in the laboratory of his word tricks. In the end, his helpless struggle for meaning is what makes him relatable. For all this record’s hubris, the long-touted “generational voice” that is Alex Turner has never sounded more real, or more himself.

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